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Color my world

31 May

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Welcome to Emily Williams-Wheeler’s world. It’s a world of colorful rabbits and birds and cotton-candy trees. It’s a world of self-expression and new discoveries.

“Color is my strength and my passion,” Emily says. So whether she’s creating artwork to sell or painting a mural for a local mall or teaching creative-thinking classes to local children, the “Studio e” artist is always infusing her world with color.

“If I can bring color to people and make them happy, that’s my goal,” she says. “I had a reviewer once who said I make art contagious.”

When we met Emily in early June 2013 at her home in Fargo, N.D., she had just opened a solo exhibit titled “Soup to Nuts: A Lighter Faire” at Kaddatz Galleries in Fergus Falls, Minn. Her children’s annual spring art exhibit had attracted more than 200 people. A month before, she had finalized the installation of a mural in the Children’s Playland in Fargo’s West Acres Mall.

In 2012, Emily (’86 interior design) was named TOSCA American Artist Series North Dakota Artist of the Year. Her list of projects, workshops, shows, and other accomplishments covers four pages. She and her husband, John Wheeler (’84 meteorology), a meteorologist for WDAY-TV in Fargo, have two children, Maggie and Cameron, and two rambunctious dogs, Phinney and Ollie.

Emily grew up in Iowa, and her initial impression of Fargo was not exactly positive.

“It was awful. I thought it was a barren hinterland,” she says. “It took me awhile to fall in love with it.”

Now, although she “lives in a gray world up here” during much of the year, she sees color everywhere. “Or I put it there,” she says.

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Baby, it’s cold outside

20 Dec

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Fargo, N.D., has the worst weather in the country. At least according to viewers of the Weather Channel, who annually vote it into the “final four,” often beating out perennial favorites Fairbanks, Alaska; International Falls, Minn.; and Caribou, Maine. The city knocks down its residents with a one-two-three punch of powerful blizzards, extreme cold, and spring floods. Once, Fargo even had one of this country’s most powerful tornadoes.

If there’s any comfort in all of that, it’s John Wheeler.

John (’84 meteorology) is a television weatherman who’s been providing rational, science-based forecasts to citizens of Fargo since 1985.

John knows all kinds of weather; he was born in Louisiana, raised in Alabama, and moved to the Midwest – Madison, Wis., and West Union, Iowa – during his high school years.

At Iowa State, he rejected the minutiae of his engineering classes and moved into meteorology.

“Weather is ‘big picture,’” John says. “It’s so sensible. It’s ‘Is it going to rain on me today?’ That was more appealing to me. It had never occurred to me until I got to Iowa State that I could be a TV meteorologist.”

After graduating in 1984 and meeting his wife-to-be, Emily Williams (’86 interior design) on the Richardson Court paint crew, John joined the staff of WDAY, the ABC affiliate in Fargo.

The combination of being so far north and being so flat makes Fargo the “blizzard country of America.” (“With the exception of western and northern Alaska, we have more blizzards here in the Fargo area than anyplace else in the U.S.” John says. “It’s the windiest, non-mountain, Class 1 weather station in the United States.”)

“It’s also just dang cold,” he says.

If you mention rival-cold-city International Falls, John bristles.

“International Falls gets the sexy low temperatures – you know, the 45 belows. We don’t get those lows. But International Falls gets warm in the daytime, and there’s no wind. We have a lot of days here in the winter where it’s in the 20s below in the afternoon.

“It’s remarkably colder than Iowa was,” he continued. “I was really surprised at that. I used to think Iowa was cold. And I didn’t like cold weather when I lived there. I’ve moved up here and learned to embrace it.”

John walks to the TV station – and to the North Dakota State University campus, where he teaches classes in meteorology – year round because, he says, as a meteorologist he should experience the weather he’s predicting.

He says his job never gets old, because every day there’s a new problem: What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?  And because a broadcast meteorologist has to be not only accurate but entertaining, he has to be a good communicator.

And people in Fargo always complain about the weather.

“They get really crabby,” he says.

The Dakotas

16 Jun

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Thirty-six states are now complete, with just 14 more to go.

Jim and I recently returned from North Dakota and South Dakota – yes, they are two separate states, even though I find myself referring to them as “The Dakotas” more often than not.

We met with Iowa State alumni only on the far eastern side of the states (so close to Minnesota it almost felt like cheating) because, well, that’s where they live. We didn’t get to travel to the wild-west part of either state, which was sort of disappointing. But then again, we didn’t have to compete with family vacationers in their slow-moving recreational vehicles at Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, Theodore Roosevelt National Park – or even Wall Drug.

Our first destination was Fargo, N.D. It’s really hard to go to Fargo and NOT think about the hilarious 1996 Coen brothers’ movie of the same name, even though the film was actually set in Minnesota.

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Despite its reputation for brutal winter weather, Fargo is a very nice city with a cool, historic downtown area. It’s also home to North Dakota State University. Jim and I took a quick drive around the campus and had our picture taken in front of the big bison sculpture before getting down to business.

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We met first with John Wheeler (’84 meteorology), well known in the area as a television meteorologist for ABC-affiliate WDAY-TV since 1985. I get the feeling that if you want to know what the day’s weather is going to bring in Fargo, you check with John.

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Equally successful is John’s wife, Emily Williams-Wheeler (’86 interior design), an artist and art instructor who owns Studio e. Emily took us to Fargo’s West Acres Mall, where she just completed painting a brightly colored children’s mural.

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Driving south, we arrived at the home of 2005 grads Trey & Becah Fliehs in Groton, S.D. Becah (chemical engineering) and Trey (journalism & mass communication) are farmers – and also owners of a Caribbean-inspired company called Team Cocktail. Becah is also the technical manager at a nearby POET ethanol plant. (That’s Trey and Becah with their three-legged dog, Trip, short for Tripod.)

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Our last visit during this brief trip to the Dakotas was with Walter Bones (’73 animal science), a farmer and former South Dakota secretary of agriculture. Walt operates (along with two brothers, a brother-in-law, and three nephews) the family farm near Parker that was homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1879. So there’s a lot of history there.

We’re back in Iowa now, with stories to write, photos to look at, and more trips to plan.